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By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky associate athletics director of basketball operations Chris Woolard noted that UK’s welcome back to Lexington after winning the NCAA title stunned the players and staff.
“We thought we knew what it would be like and understood the importance of Kentucky basketball,” Woolard said. “We understood there would be people at Rupp Arena and thought that would be neat, but we thought then there would not be people at the airport waiting for us to land like there are at times. We land and there are 8,000 fans there.
“Great. We think then maybe there will be a couple thousand fans at Rupp Arena. We start driving out of the airport and there are cars lined up on Versailles Rd. all the way down on both sides of the street. Oncoming traffic is stopped because people are on top of their car hoods cheering. That’s when tears came to our eyes. People were lining the road all the way from the airport to Rupp Arena.
“We drive the bus into Rupp Arena and look up and the place is packed with 24,000 fans and the loudest I have ever heard it. It was an amazing feeling for our guys and I think one experience players and coaches will never forget. That is what the Big Blue Nation is all about and why Kentucky basketball stays at this level. Recruits want to be part of that.”
Woolard says if he had any doubts about Kentucky having the best fan base in the country, they disappeared when Calipari decided to take the national championship trophy on a two-day tour to various spots in the state.
“You couldn’t go do that at another place. Cal could have done things to promote himself after winning the title or promote the program, but instead he wanted to take the trophy around the state,” Woolard said. “It was all his idea. We had seven stops and every time there would be 2,000 to 3,000 people waiting for us. Coach wanted everybody to get to see the trophy. He stood there however long it took. Every person got his or her picture with Calipari and the championship trophy. That’s something else I will never forget about the season and could not have been done any place in the country except Kentucky.”